This discussion will feature Debdeep Chatterjee, Elahe Fakoor, and Zeynab Yousefzadeh, Concordia graduate students investigating issues and applications related to Life Cycle Assessment. Each panelist will give a short presentation, followed by discussion and questions.
Debdeep Chatterjee, Shannon Lloyd, & Young-Chul Jeong: Life Cycle Assessment: Why aren’t more companies using it?
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to assess diverse environmental impacts associated with a product, from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing, use, and the final disposal of the product. As such, it is a powerful tool for evaluating and identifying opportunities for improving the extended environmental impacts of a firm. Consultants and firms that use LCA point to a number of benefits, including resource efficiency and cost savings, reduced environmental liabilities, and product differentiation. However, a number of challenges limit the use of LCA more extensively. These include high adoption cost, complexities surrounding data collection, and the difficulty of communicating results to the stakeholders. Given these tensions, the extent of LCA adoption is relatively unclear. So, we studied the LCA adoption rates and practices among firms in the United States chemical industry from 1987 to 2017. The chemical industry offers an interesting setting because it has been at the center of environmental controversy and faces considerable pressure to improve its environmental performance. Our sample consisted of 185 firms for which we analyzed sustainability reports, media articles, and other publicly available documents to find evidence for the use of LCA. Our results indicate the diffusion of LCA remains underwhelming with only 31 firms or 16 % of the sample firms engaging in LCA in the past. We then compared LCA adopters and non-adopters to identify the critical factors that influenced whether or not a firm adopted LCA.
Elahe Fakoor, Annie Levasseur, Shannon Lloyd, & Ben Amor: Prospective LCA of emerging surface engineering technologies
It is generally accepted that the environment has a limited capacity to absorb the ever-increasing pollutions around the world. One of the tools that help toward a sustainable future in identifying the most environmentally friendly solutions is life cycle assessment. LCA is one of the most beneficial tools for assessing environmental impacts because it covers the entire life of a product from raw material acquisition to end-of-life. The Green-SEAM Network performs cutting-edge surface engineering research with the goal of evaluating new materials and processes for developing innovative surface engineering solutions. One of the objectives of the network is the environmental assessment of these innovative technologies to choose the best ones from both environmental and technical viewpoints. Due to lack of data, it is impossible to perform a reliable LCA for assessing the environmental performance of surface engineering emerging technologies. Even though there were many attempts to perform streamlined or screening LCAs, all methods have shortcomings and they don’t have transparency and consistency required for reliable evaluation. The simplified methods have some kinds of simplifications such as using average data rather than specific local values, eliminating analysis of small amounts of materials that may have significant impacts, eliminating capital equipment and supplier operation material flows from study. These methods are not flexible enough to be applied to various subjects and due to lack of transparency, they are subject to arbitrariness. Some methods are developed for a specified case study and they are mostly a cradle to gate assessment, which does not consider the use or end-of-life stages. In order to fill these gaps, this study aims to develop an LCA-based tool, address the methodological issues existed in available methods, and propose a framework for the environmental assessment of the emerging surface engineering innovative solutions to give an overview of strengths and weaknesses of various surface engineering candidates at early stages of their development. The first step is creating a quick and qualitative matrix that enables screening candidates with an inviolate list. This approach includes two parts: a matrix containing all stages of a product life cycle as well as potential environmental impacts, and a list of incorrect environmental choices and issues. The purpose of this quick assessment is to compare the matrix with the list and avoid further development of a candidate at early R&D stage in case of encountering critical environmental issues during its life cycle stages.
Zeynab Yousefzadeh & Shannon Lloyd: Challenges in prospective LCA of emerging surface engineering processes and applications
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an analytical framework for evaluating multiple environmental impacts associated with a product's life cycle, from cradle to grave. A growing body of research and practice aims to use prospective LCA to inform the development of emerging technologies to reduce the overall environmental impact of industrial systems. A recent review of LCA of emerging technologies identified four key challenges, including 1) difficulties in comparability, 2) lack of sufficient and qualified data, 3) issues scaling up the data, and 4) uncertainties and communication of uncertainty (Moni et al., 2019). This presentation explains how some of these challenges, including functional unit and system boundaries definition, process scaling up difficulties, the lack of historic data for use phase and end of life, and the trends for generating cleaner electricity in Canada, were addressed in an LCA of a surface engineering product as a new pipe heating technology. Moreover, in this work, the applied practices to deal with the ambiguities linked to the technology's novelty are discussed. This study's outcome contributes to a better understanding of improving the results' accuracy process in LCA. Also, it introduces the next steps to develop this LCA model in future studies.